By Tim Petruk, Kamloops This Week
KAMLOOPS — A former New Zealand politician charged with first-degree murder in the 2010 drowning death of his wife in a B.C. lake killed out of greed, a jury has been told.
Peter Beckett’s trial began in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops on Tuesday with a lengthy opening statement from Crown prosecutor Sarah Firestone.
“The case you’re about to hear is not a ‘whodunit,’” she told the 14 jurors.
“The case you’re about to hear is, rather, a ‘what happened.’”
Beckett, 59, was charged a year after his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett, drowned on Upper Arrow Lake near Revelstoke.
Firestone outlined the case against Beckett, which includes wiretaps, an exhaustive financial investigation and a jailhouse snitch.
“The accused killed Laura Letts deliberately for financial gain,” she said, noting he hoped to benefit from her family inheritance and insurance payouts.
“He would also collect her schoolteacher’s pension for the rest of his days, which he would spend in the house she owned when they married.”
Firestone said Beckett took out a number of life-insurance policies and accidental-death benefits on his wife between 2007 and 2010, the final one going into effect the month before Letts-Beckett died.
Firestone said Beckett claimed to have no knowledge of the final insurance policy. But, she said, police found his fingerprints on the document.
Jurors were told Beckett was not immediately a suspect. He described the incident at times as an accident or suicide, Firestone said.
“One by one, certain police officers and civilians began to realize that the version of events painted by Mr. Beckett about the events of Aug. 18, 2010, were not accurate,” she said.
Beckett was arrested in August 2011.
The first witness called by the Crown on Tuesday was Beth Letts, Letts-Beckett’s mother.
Letts described to jurors how her daughter met Beckett while travelling in New Zealand in 1995. Five years later, Beckett began making regular trips to Westlock, Alta., where Letts-Beckett worked as a schoolteacher.
The couple wed in 2003. Letts said their relationship was a good one at first. She said Beckett eventually became “overbearing and domineering.”
Letts-Beckett filed a police report in September 2007, alleging physical abuse at the hands of Beckett.
Letts said she was at the Westlock RCMP detachment when her daughter made her statement to police.
“Laura was upset,” she said.
“She was crying. He [the officer] kept saying to her, ‘Laura, it’s not your fault.’
“He suggested to her that she leave the relationship. He said, ‘I do not want to be dealing with a homicide later, Laura, and I strongly suggest that you do not go back.’”
Letts said her daughter and Beckett separated for about three months in late 2007, reuniting in January 2008.
While they were separated, she said, Letts-Beckett came clean to her family about the fact Beckett had been married previously — something to which the Letts were staunchly opposed.
Letts said her relationship with her daughter after she reconciled with Beckett consisted only of birthday cards until a phone call on Mother’s Day in 2010.
Less than four months later, Beckett called the Letts to say their daughter was dead.
During her cross-examination of Letts, defence lawyer Donna Turko implied Letts-Beckett had been “shunned” or “ex-communicated” by her family, which made her depressed. Letts denied that allegation, saying she cut off contact with her daughter to reduce stress that was aggravating a medical condition.
Turko also asked Letts about an alleged rape in her childhood at the hands of a worker on the family farm.
“I don’t know that,” Letts replied.
“Laura told me about that several years after it happened.”
The Crown expects to call 50 witnesses in the trial, which is slated to last three months.
Beckett was formerly a city councillor in Napier, New Zealand.